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Mobile, Alabama

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Zeb Ramey
Zeb Ramey
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Let Jurors Ask Questions

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I just completed a week’s trial that resulted in a hung jury. The jury was unable to unanimously agree on a verdict. Many states do not require unanimous verdicts in civil cases. For an example, Mississippi requires three-fourths of the jurors to decide a civil case. But that is an issue for another day.

I wonder if the jurors had been allowed to question witnesses whether the result may have been different. Would some issues have been cleared up? Would questions by them have alerted me to address an issue with another witness?

When I was trying cases in the Marine Corps, jurors were allowed to ask questions. It was a simple process. After the lawyers completed their examinations of a witness, the judge would invite the jurors to write down any questions they had for the witness. The questions were reviewed by the lawyers and submitted to the court. If the lawyers had an objection to a question, they raised that objection at a side bar conference outside the hearing of the jury. The judge ruled on whether those questions should be asked just as he would rule on whether a question was proper by a lawyer.

The process allowed the jury to be better informed and also allowed them to make their decision based more likely on the facts they learned from the testimony under oath as opposed to conjecture. Having them ask question also makes the jurors more involved in the trial.

Changing the way trials are run is difficult for lawyers. They want to be in control. However, since the jury is the one that is going to make the decision, why not let them clarify issues they have with the case?

-Billy Cunningham